'We'll put on a good show' in return to Phoenix

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Tony Kanaan vividly recalls the restart with three laps remaining, the final-lap duel with countryman Helio Castroneves and then the elation of winning the Purex Dial Indy 200 on March 23, 2003, at Phoenix International Raceway.

It was Kanaan’s second Indy car victory and the maiden win for Andretti Green Racing and the Honda engine in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Two weeks earlier, in the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kanaan earned the pole in his first race with the team.

He’s looking forward to making more memories. After a protracted absence, the 62nd Indy car race at the venue in Avondale, Ariz., is scheduled for April 2, 2016. A multi-year contract is in place.

“I’m happy that we’re going back to an oval and especially an oval that gave me my first win in INDYCAR,” said Kanaan, who also won at Phoenix in 2004 on the way to claiming the series championship. “I’m excited about that.”

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The 1-mile tri-oval has been altered since the last Verizon IndyCar Series race in 2005 – the dogleg replaced with a banked Turn 2 – but Kanaan is forecasting another exciting event.

“I’ve been there since they’ve reconfigured the track (most recently Oct. 20 for a Firestone tire test) and it’s different,” he said. “It will be similar to Iowa, which is a good race. We’ll put on a good show.”

Track president Bryan Sperber, who attended the 2015 series finale at Sonoma Raceway, agrees.

A.J. Foyt won the inaugural Indy car event at the facility on March 22, 1964, averaging 107.536 mph over the 100 laps. Parnelli Jones started from the pole and also won the pole when the USAC-sanctioned series returned in November. Lloyd Ruby won the second race.

Sam Hornish Jr. won the last Indy car race with an average speed of 137.753 mph over the 200 laps in a Team Penske entry. He held off teammate Helio Castroneves and Andretti Green’s Dario Franchitti.

“We were battling Franchitti toward the end of the race and Tony Kanaan drove from 21st to third,” Hornish recalled. “Dario and some others chose to pit and take tires and Helio and I stayed out. I remember that vividly.

“We were able to stretch out our lead, but another yellow came and packed the field back up. The TV pit reporter asked Roger Penske how he felt about Dario having fresh tires and he said, ‘Well, Dario might have tires but we have Hornish.’ That was a pretty good compliment in my eyes.

“On the restart we were able to take advantage and Dario wound up in the marbles, and that allowed Helio to get up there and finish second. To be able to win what turned out to be the final Indy car race was great.”

Hornish also won for Panther Racing in his 2001 championship season.

Arie Luyendyk holds the single-lap pole record at 183.599 mph (19.068 seconds) set in March 1996. Roberto Guerrero won the 1987 race with a record average speed of 138.020 mph over the 200 laps.

“It was so quick for a 1-mile oval because it had enough banking in Turn 1 where you could go into 2 really hard,” said Luyendyk, who also won at the track in 1991. “A good lap was taking Turns 3 and 4 flat. In the race the speeds would drop with race setup and there was a lot of good racing. It had its own character. I did a lot of testing there with the G Force chassis. I remember in ’87 I went out to shake down a brand new car and as I went down the backstraight -- just before I entered Turn 3 -- the rear wing fell off. I wasn’t even going fast; I was just warming up and all of a sudden the car just went crazy and I hit the wall.

“I was OK but screamed on the radio what had just happened. There was silence for what seemed an eternity and then someone said, ‘Uh, the wing fell off.’ ‘Yes, I know that,’ I said.”

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